Behind the Scenes in HR: What’s Taking So Long to Hear Back?

I spent almost a decade in recruiting. So naturally, one of the biggest questions I get from friends, family, colleagues and clients is often, “I haven’t heard back after my interview/resume. Do you think that’s a bad sign?”

In the modern technology age, we’re trained to set this unrealistic expectation that the information we seek should be made available to us immediately. But when it comes to HR and hiring, it’s a whole other ballgame. Unfortunately the lack of response and feedback after submitting a resume or attending an interview often leaves candidates in the dark, wondering “What did I do wrong?” Potentially nothing!

I’ve had this secret “members-only” view into the fickle world of HR for some time now. What really catches their eye? Why do they take so damn long to hire someone when they know they’re in love with a certain candidate? Why did they essentially tell me I was their top choice… and then hire someone else?

To avoid some of the unnecessary stress that comes with job searching, it’s important to understand how HR works. In doing so, as a candidate you’ll have a better scale of what the potential norm is when it comes to dealing with a lengthy hiring process.

Hiring is a costly investment for a company, and they want to make sure they’re making the right decision so as to see plenty of return on that investment. After all, it costs 3 times as much to hire a new employee than it does to retain an existing one, and they don’t want the wrong candidate being fired or jumping ship after 1 month on the job.

Join me as I walk you through the glorious inner workings of the HR department, from their perspective, in a hypothetical hiring situation starting from day one – TODAY!

Wednesday, March 14: I have a stack of resumes. It’s my responsibility to phone interview these candidates who were referred or recommended to me internally before the job opening is even advertised or public knowledge. This includes internal referrals from other employees, internal employees who might be considered for a promotion, and candidates who may have come in previously to interview for another role, and even though there wasn’t a place for them at the time, somebody kept them on the radar for “future opportunities”. And here’s the future opportunity. I might really like someone from this group of “premier” candidates, but they won’t necessarily hire them right away.

[2 days pass…]

Friday, March 16: I set up in-person interviews for next week with the early bird candidates who seemed to have good potential based on my phone conversation with them. Of course, there’s always that one person pressing their luck and asking to be interviewed the following week because they’re “out of town until Monday”. Fine…

[5 days pass…]

Wednesday, March 21: I put the job description out to the general public via the company website, social media channels, and perhaps even a few job boards. I’m in the middle of interviewing my early bird candidates and still will be until early next week. My only concern is gathering a bunch of resumes from outside candidates. I start sorting through the 1000s of resumes that come in within the first 4 hours of posting. This is absolutely 100% a reality, so as the candidate, don’t wonder so much why your resume got lost in the shuffle. Eventually they will see it. Hang in there #438!

It’s important to note that at this stage, due to the volume of resumes that often come in after initially posting a job opening, recruiters are scanning through your resume at the speed of light, because I have 1000 other people to look at before week’s end, not to mention the other positions I’m currently trying to coordinate interviews for and fill. With this in mind, make sure your branding message is clear as water, and metaphorically smacks me right in the face so that I can’t miss it. In other words, don’t send a 4 page resume and expect me to read through the whole thing. Have a killer summary statement that opens up your resume, draws my interest, and compels me to keep scanning because you sound, at least initially, like a good fit. And repeat this information in the body of your email. Make sure your resume is optimized for readability, i.e. not too much information crammed on the page, sections are neatly defined, and each section speaks uniformly to your overall branding message.

[2 days pass…]

Friday, March 23: File away the resumes that have strong potential, and eventually once you get through the plethora of submissions, email the candidates with the most potential to see what their deal is, and when they’re available to do a phone interview. And as the candidate, you better clear your schedule. Chances are the director, manager, or whomever is responsible for making the hiring decision on you only gave me 2 or 3 time slots that they’re available to review candidates within the next two weeks.

[3 days pass…]

Monday, March 26: I start conducting initial phone interviews to pre-qualify candidates with strong potential, and who might be worthwhile putting in front of my boss, the hiring decision maker. Only the cream of the crop will be called in first, and if they’re not available, then I move on to the second-choice picks. This process usually takes several weeks. I’ve seen it take several months. As the candidate, don’t get discouraged if you’re still waiting on an invite to come in to interview; it could be on its way.

[1.5 weeks pass…]

Wednesday, April 4: I setup the first round of in-person interviews, which is typically with either myself, someone who works under the hiring decision maker, or both. The second, and hopefully final round, will be with the decision maker themselves. I interview anywhere between 3 to 10 people. Once again, this is likely to take several weeks. And no doubt, some key player is out on vacation, so feedback will have to wait another week and a half until Johnny Junior Manager gets back from his engagement trip to Aruba. After all, we can’t proceed without the feedback and opinions of everyone on the team who will interface with this new hire.

[3 weeks pass…]

Friday, April 27: Once I’ve completed the first-round interviews, and I have 2-3 candidates whom I feel are a sure shot, I setup a second or final interview with the hiring decision maker. Hopefully one of these candidates will end up being hired. Otherwise, I have to go back to the drawing board and see if there’s anyone else I liked whom I can pass through to the next round. Sometimes I have to start from scratch, since it’s typically been several weeks at this point, and many of my potential candidates have disappeared into the arms of another job opportunity.

[2 weeks pass…]

Friday, May 11: In an ideal world, one of my first choice picks who moved on to round 2 of interviews impressed the hiring decision maker enough that she wants to extend an offer. But we’ll finagle a bit about the salary first. Because even though the candidate was upfront that she wants $60,000, and everyone involved in the hiring process was already aware of this, the decision maker decides she doesn’t want to go over $55,000. But she’s willing to offer a tiered bonus plan structure in place of that last $5000. Now I have to go back to the candidate and convey that, Congratulations! We want to hire you. BUT…

Hopefully they’re cool with it. Especially if they’re leaving another job.

[1 week passes…]

Friday, May 18: After a week of going back and forth about the bonus structure, a deal is finally struck, and an offer letter goes out with all the details of the job offer.

[2 weeks pass…]

Friday, June 1: Welcome aboard, new hire!

So what can we deduct from this typical example (and of course, this is from my own experience and every company and situation will be different)? If you were in that initial early bird “premier” group of referred candidates, you just endured 2 months and 3 days between the time you submitted your resume, and the time they came back with an offer letter. And if you were like the other 99% of candidates and submitted your application in response to the initial job posting from day one, you endured just about 2 months from application to offer.

The bad news? This is incredibly frustrating, and often the norm. The good news? This is the norm. So stop worrying that you haven’t heard back yet.



About the Author: Dana Leavy founded Aspyre Solutions, focusing on small business development and career consulting. Her mission is to support creative and socially-conscious small businesses, through career transition coaching and business consulting for creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

Dana has helped hundreds of professionals in advertising, marketing, design and other industries execute effective career plans to find and DO the work they are passionate about. She has presented seminars on navigating careers, transition and work-life balance to several colleges and universities, and her advice has been featured on MSN Careers, Fox Business News, NewsDay,, GlassDoor and Follow Dana on Twitter!




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  • This is great to know! Thanks for posting!. I graduate in December. Given how things can often slow down with the holidays, when should I start applying for post-college jobs?

    •  Hi Victor,

      Congratulations on your impending graduation!

      It may sound strange… but I’d start applying… now!

      You are correct that hiring tends to slow toward the end of the year. Given that knowledge… why wait until hiring slows and you’re busy with finals, perhaps looking for a new place to live (if you currently live in the dorm) etc. Finding a new job takes time… starting to look now gives you time to network, practice interviewing, updating your resume etc. gradually. By the time you graduate you’ll be an old-hand at the process.

      Plus, you may not know it, but some companies hire graduates in anticipation of graduation… they hire you in say… September with the idea that you’ll begin working for them in December.

      I wouldn’t wait. I’d start your application process (that’s that it is… a process… not a magic bullet)… now.

      Especially the networking… which is the most powerful part of your job search process.

  • Simon

    I had an interview for a permanent full-time position at a place I had been working as a temporary worker about two weeks ago.

    I feel better knowing that it’s taking this long for them to get back to me, it’s still frustrating.

  • Dan Gurney

    Thank you for that! I had a job interview over a week ago and I thought it went pretty well. But now I was worried that maybe the interview didn’t go as well as I thought.

  • Franktalker

    Thanks for your candor, but this just shows what despicable human beings HR pencil pushers can be. Why not pick from your qualified “early-bird” referrals instead of wasting their time (for almost 4 months!), and the time of the 1000+ other applicants who are applying with absolute futility to online postings? And if you do need to advertise externally, why not sift through them chronologically, and interview the first applicant who meets the qualifications? If they work out, great. If not, move down the list. Someone should be hired within 48 hours. I’m sick and tired of the HR runaround. I have close to five years of professional experience post-university, this after working my way through school in the retail sector. At no fault of my own I’ve been let go from a previous position and I’ve now been wasting my time for almost 13 months, landing an interview every couple of months, including some that went phenomenally well, only to learn weeks later that I was not selected. Employment Insurance benefits have now run out, so I expect to start work IMMEDIATELY, not 3 months from now! What happened to the good old days of walking in too meet the boss with a firm handshake and starting work the next day? The 3:1 cost of hiring vs. retention only exists because of the bloated salaries of HR mules who purposely drag their feet to justify their position.

  • AB

    Congratulations. You just recruited someone that couldn’t get a job despite being on the market for three months. No doubt they’ll be a keeper.